Hartford Circus Fire - Soldiers Help Children Escape

Hartford Circus Fire - Soldiers Help Children Escape Disasters American History Social Studies Tragedies and Triumphs

America's greatest circus disaster - the Hartford fire of July 6, 1944 - occurred during World War II.  Soldiers who had been wounded during various battles, and were convalescing in Hartford, had also attended the July 6th circus performance.

Despite their own injuries, these soldiers did everything they could to help children who would otherwise have been trapped in the inferno:

In this first wave, the Red Cross volunteers started to move their convalescent soldiers out but then turned back to help.  The canvas above the front door was fully involved, heat radiating down on top of people leaving.

The men, while hampered by their injuries, could not be stopped from leading at least thirty children to safety, many of them burned.  Dressed for the weather, the children were mostly exposed, their skin the bright red of sunburn.

One soldier took a boy by the arm and made him cry.  His hand came away wet.  The child's skin had blistered; in gripping him, the soldier had ripped the blebs so they wept fluid.  Outside, the Red Cross volunteers had to restrain their patients - even some in slings - from running back in.

Had it not been for these heroic actions, even more people would have died or been seriously wounded.  The fire was consuming everything around it, faster than anyone could believe:

An East Hartford mother was the beneficiary of similar heroics.  She lost her six-year-old, knocked from her arms as they ran for the exit.  A sailor scooped him up and carried him out, barely bruised.

People on the northeast side - scroll down the page to view a relevant picture - seated in bleachers farthest from the fire's point of origin, had no trouble getting out.  But those sitting elsewhere had increasing difficulty as the fire continued to spread:

The roof over the main entrance was driving the crowd back now.  One man sitting in the southwest bleachers made it to the track before the swell swept him out the northwest exit, dragging him along the animal chute than ran through there...

People had been sitting in wooden chairs positioned on narrow bleachers.  Those at the top had trouble making their way down:

They had to climb over piles of seats.  The chairs collapsed as people tried to step on them, the wooden legs bruising and cutting shins.  A foot caught in a seat, and people tripped and fell.  Some stepped on the thick Coke bottles and twisted their ankles.  And still there were people behind them, and more behind them, all coming down.  A Hartford man explained:  "There was nothing we could do.  Others just walked over them in the rush."  (Quoted passages from The Circus Fire:  A True Story of an American Tragedy, by Steward O'Nan, pages 76-77.)

Meanwhile ... the flames continued to consume the tent.

Click on the image for a better view.

Media Credits

Image of Hartford Circus fire, online courtesy U.S. National Archives.


To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"Hartford Circus Fire - Soldiers Help Children Escape" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Jan 22, 2020.
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Show tooltips